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The Importance of Pretend Play

The Importance of Pretend Play
Posted on December 14, 2022 by CHS

Play makes childhood exciting and fun; it is an essential part of a child’s development.

Pretend play (also known as dramatic play or role play) is when a child chooses a standard object and pretends it represents something else. Have you ever seen a child create a castle or fort out of a cardboard box, or make a telescope out of a paper towel tube to look into the universe? This process of pretending informs many other developmental areas, including communication, cognitive, physical, social, and emotional skills.

Communication Skills
Pretend play provides a perfect opportunity to enrich language skills. Following the child’s lead encourages the child to continue to use their imagination. Through pretend play, children learn to communicate with their peers to convey their wants and needs, making the connection that language is useful. When children play, listen carefully to what they are saying, and be present and demonstrate that you are focused on what they are trying to express. For example, when a child pretends to be a cashier at a grocery store, they may “scan” the items using a register, place food into their basket, or use “money” to purchase their items. Repeating and paraphrasing what the child is saying extends the child-centered conversation by using more complete phrases. Adult contributions such as, “That’s right, you now have two apples in your basket. It sounds to me like you really enjoy eating apples,” or “How much does it cost to purchase three more apples?” increases language development and imagination.

Cognitive Skills
Pretend play provides an opportunity for a child to solve a problem, negotiate, encourage cooperation (making friends), and engage in conflict resolution. For example, when two children decide to play a game, it involves them cooperating with each other, deciding who will play which role, negotiating the game’s rules, and coming up with a resolution if something does not go according to plan.

As children develop these skills, they will begin predicting what will happen next or asking questions, especially “why” questions. They will also start developing a sense of humor, such as telling jokes or riddles.

Physical Skills
Pretend play often encourages the use of gross motor and fine motor skills inside and outside the classroom.

Gross motor skills involve the ability to control large muscles in the body, such as crawling, jumping, walking, or running. These skills are often observed when a child pretends to role play as someone else, such as a firefighter climbing a ladder or a track star running back and forth.

Fine motor skills involve the use of smaller muscles located in the hands and fingers. For example, when a child dresses up a doll in the dramatic play area, the process of placing clothing and accessories on the doll, or combing the doll’s hair, requires the use of pincer and palmar grasps that build small muscles.

Social and Emotional Skills
When a child role plays as other characters or creates make-believe scenarios, they are experimenting with the social and emotional roles around them. They are also learning how the world around them works, learning empathy in the process, and interpreting different emotions— big or small. Children may pretend to be people they see in their family or community, or they may imitate fictional characters from books or movies. This kind of pretend play supports children in understanding the different jobs people do and how a community functions. Pretend play also provides children with an opportunity to process emotions they may be feeling. For example, you might see them talk to someone who is important to them on a toy phone.

Play, in general, is key to a child’s development and overall wellbeing. Pretend play is important because it helps a child explore their interests, connect with others in new ways, and discover who they are as an individual by learning what they like, don’t like, and are good at.

The following references and resources provide additional information on how to encourage pretend play with your child.

References and Resources

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